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"I haven't been fair to you," he said, giving a rueful shake of his head. "I've been lying to you all this time. You haven't even known my name. It's not Bowman. It's Kellan. My name is Kellan Archer."

Doc scowled, his black brows furrowing, brown eyes narrowing, suspicious. Nina cocked her indigo-haired head in question, her look of unease deepening. Only Candice met his gaze without perplexity or surprise. The sharp-witted, compassionate young woman had probably figured most of it out for herself the other day, when she and Mira had spoken. The two of them had formed something of a kinship - what might have become a friendship, if circumstances had been different.

She gave him a mild nod, and he cleared his throat to continue. "You've known from the beginning that I'm Breed. That's something I couldn't hope to hide from you. Candice and Doc, you knew it the night you pulled me from the Mystic and saved my life. Nina, you've known it for months. You've all known my secret and you kept it."

"We're your friends. That's what friends do for one another, Bow - " Doc's voice broke off abruptly, and he shook his head back and forth, blowing out a long sigh. "Friends watch your back. You've had ours too . . . Kellan?"

He nodded at the testing of his name. "I've still got your back, Javier. As long as I'm drawing breath, know that I'll watch all of your backs. And I want to lay it all out tonight, no more secrets. No more lies. I want you to know the truth - all of it. And part of my truth is sleeping in that room down the hall."

"You love her." Nina's expression had softened to one of understanding. Wistful and quiet, no doubt because of the love she'd known not so long ago. Known and lost, taken from her by whoever it was who'd absconded with Jeremy Ackmeyer's UV technology. "You've loved this woman for a long time, haven't you?"

Kellan nodded. "All my life. That's what it seems like. I've loved her since we were kids . . . when Mira and I both were raised by the Order."

No one said a word. Even Candice now looked at him in anticipation. "You are Order?"

"Was," he corrected. "A long time ago."

He told them about the destruction of his family's Darkhaven when he was thirteen years old, how he and his grandfather Lazaro Archer, the owner of the place they now occupied, were accepted into the Order's protection. He told them how he met an eight-year-old, pale-haired, stubborn little imp who'd refused to let him sulk over everything he'd lost, refusing to let him give up and forcing him to accept her as his friend. He told them how that same little imp had blossomed into an amazing woman and impressive warrior, how he and Mira had trained together with the Order, eventually becoming members of the same patrol team.

And then he told them how, after finally admitting to himself that he'd fallen in love with her, after at last giving in to the desire they shared for each other, his world came crashing down in an instant, when he glimpsed his future in her extraordinary eyes.

He told them about the warehouse explosion that should have killed him, but didn't. And how he'd been a coward, taking what he thought to be the easiest way out - running as far and as fast as he could from the vision he dreaded - and letting Mira and everyone else he cared about at the time believe he truly was dead.

"I thought I was being so careful, making sure our paths never crossed." He uttered a low curse. "And then the call came in from the field, after the grab on Ackmeyer didn't go off the way we'd planned. When I heard we snagged a member of the Order . . . a female warrior . . . I should've told you all then. I think I was still fooling myself that I could escape this. That I could evade the inevitable."

"Sounds like you're giving up, boss." Doc eyed him like the field surgeon he was, examining a mortal wound. "Sounds to me like you brought us here to say good-bye."

"I needed to do what I could to see that the three of you had the chance to come out of this unscathed," Kellan said, not yet ready to talk about farewells. "I want you to think about where you're heading with your lives, after all of this is over."

"What about you and Mira?" Candice asked gently.

He shook his head slowly, considering. "I need to know she's going to be safe too. She belongs with the Order; that's her family. They'll look after her. They'll help her through."

Candice watched him, her hazel-green eyes far too wise. "And you, Kellan? Where does all of this leave you?"

He grunted, wry with resignation. "Right back where I started."

At least he had honesty in this moment, with these people. At least he had a few precious days and nights with Mira, a gift that made any price he paid more than worth the cost.

He had her love.

She would always have his heart.

"I think she's finally awake," Nina said, a moment after Kellan heard a bump of movement coming from the bedroom down the hall.

He was already heading that way, jolted into action by a sudden burst of pain passed to him through the blood bond. His long strides ate up the distance. He opened the door and found the bed empty, covers pushed aside. "Mira?"

He saw her a second later, on the floor near the foot of the bed. Her hands were wrapped around her shin. As soon as Kellan opened the door, his nostrils flared with the inhaled punch of her lily-scented blood. "Jesus Christ. What happened?"

"N-nothing," she stammered. He saw now that she had a bleeding gash on her leg. "I must've been half asleep when I got out of bed. I banged my shin into the bed frame."

"I'll get you something for it." He dashed into the bathroom to wet a washcloth, then brought the cold compress back out to her. "Here, use this."

Her fingers trembled shakily as she took the cloth from him and put it on her wound. It wasn't anything serious, but the fact that she had stumbled - Mira, as sure-footed a female as he'd ever seen and a combat-proven warrior besides - made a cold knot form in his gut. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine," she replied quickly. Too quickly. And the blood bond told him another story. He registered fear and confusion running under the sting of her injury and the dull throb of her still-present headache. "Don't worry about me, Kellan. It's just a scratch."

He glanced at her face, at her eyes, which seemed to be looking past him, despite his effort to lock onto her gaze. Oh, Christ. He didn't want to acknowledge the thought that crept into his mind. He didn't want to consider the awful possibility.

"Mira . . ." He reached up to her face, up near her eyes.

Her gaze flicked a fraction but still didn't come to rest on him as he prayed it would. Her voice sounded so small. So heart-breakingly frightened. "What . . . what are you doing, Kellan?"

She didn't have any idea. He understood that without any doubt now.

But he had to know, had to see the truth of it for himself.

"Hold still," he told her gently. "I'm not going to hurt you."

Carefully he removed one of her contacts.

"Kellan, don't - " She sucked in a sharp breath and tried to avert her face from him, but he gingerly brought her back and removed the second lens. "Kellan . . . I didn't want you to know. I thought maybe if I rested for a while, I would get better."

"Oh, Mouse." He could hardly speak. The words tasted like ash on his tongue. "Oh, Jesus, baby . . . no."

Behind the lenses, her irises were no longer mirrorlike and clear.

They were milky white, opaque.

Her pupils stared straight ahead, minuscule pinpricks in the center of her sightless eyes.

Chapter Twenty

NATHAN ALREADY HAD ARIC CHASE ON THE LINE BY THE time Rafe and he left La Notte. "Any idea where your sister is tonight?"

"Carys? Yeah, she's with Jordana Gates at her apartment in Back Bay."

Nathan glanced at Rafe, who nodded in acknowledgment. "I know the place. Commonwealth, a block off the Public Garden."

"What's she done now?" Aric asked, then, more soberly: "She's not in any kind of trouble, is she?"

"That remains to be seen," Nathan replied, knowing it was not the most reassuring thing to tell the young female's twin brother, but, then again, he didn't have a lot of practice when it came to diplomacy. "I'll update you once I've spoken to her."

He cut the connection without further discussion and slid the comm unit back into the pocket of his black fatigues. Then he and Rafe hung the corner and picked up the pace as they sped for the Back Bay. No sense taking their vehicle when their Breed genetics would carry them across the city in no time on foot. And if Rune truly was keeping illicit company with Carys Chase, Nathan wanted to be damn sure about it, before he tore the cage-fighting bastard to shreds with his bare hands.

In mere minutes, he and Rafe closed in on the white limestone Victorian mansion at the address Aric had indicated. They flew up the marble steps to the polished black double doors and stormed inside the foyer, combat boots thudding like the march of an encroaching army in the sophisticated quiet of the place.

A graying middle-age human male in a rent-a-cop's uniform stood up from behind a long mahogany reception desk as the pair of Breed warriors cut through the lobby. When the portly guard started to sputter a protest at them, Nathan silenced him with a dark look sliced his way and a flash of fang. Wisely, the human put his ass immediately back in his chair and got busy studying his fingernails.

Nathan sent a mental command at the elevator off the lobby and the absent car started descending for him. "Stay down here," he told Rafe as the doors slid open. "You see Carys or Rune try to make an escape while I'm upstairs, you keep them here. You call me."

Rafe gave a nod of his blond head, the young warrior's eyes grim with purpose while Nathan stepped into the elevator and psychically blew past the lock on the button for the penthouse.

A few seconds later, the lift's doors opened and he found himself staring at a locked, black wrought-iron grate. On the other side of that elegant blockade was the lavish interior of Jordana Gates's apartment. Soaring twelve-foot ceilings, gleaming white marble floor, soft golden lighting everywhere he looked, bathing a warm, inviting glow over walls painted in tranquil shades of cream and white and palest blue.

As he stood there, behind the wall of fused black iron, a light, feminine voice he guessed must belong to Carys's friend reached his ears before he had a chance to see her. "Seamus, don't tell me I left my umbrella in the lobby again."

An ethereal, tall and willowy blonde sailed around a massive marble pillar in the vestibule. Dressed in a tailored, knee-length ivory skirt and a silky blouse the color of polished pewter, which, he noted with more interest than he liked, was unbuttoned to an enticing spot between her breasts, she came to an abrupt stop on her delicate, high-heeled sandals. The tumble of thick, platinum waves cascading down to the backs of her thighs sifted around her as she froze in place and stared at him. She was . . . stunning.

"Oh," she said, just now realizing she wasn't talking to the guard from downstairs. Big, expressive eyes, in an electric shade of blue that seemed almost unreal it was so intense, met his unsmiling gaze from behind the black scrollwork of the grate.

"Carys Chase," Nathan announced firmly.

"Excuse me?" She frowned now, swallowed visibly. "No, I'm Jor - "

"I know who you are. I'm here for Carys Chase. I would speak with the female. Now."

Alarm bled into Jordana Gates's striking features. "Is . . . is anything wrong? Why would you think she's - "

Using the power of his mind, Nathan threw open the locked iron barrier. "I know she's here."

Jordana took a step backward as he entered uninvited. She shot an anxious look over her shoulder, raising her voice to a level that would, no doubt, be heard all the way to the back of the expansive residence. "She's not here, and I don't appreciate the Order barging into my home unannounced."

Nathan felt the corner of his mouth quirk, not so much in humor as in mild annoyance that this Darkhaven-raised socialite would imagine she could interfere with his purpose. He advanced another pace, but this time, instead of retreating, the Breedmate blocked his path.

"No," she said, planting her spiked heels firmly in front of him. "No. You can't just stomp through my private residence as if you own the place."

He cocked his head, perplexed and somewhat annoyed at her lack of fear and her continued resistance. "Carys Chase!" he roared, his voice rumbling high into the domed ceiling of the vestibule.

Jordana stepped in closer. "I said you're not welcome here. I want you to leave at once. I mean it."

His annoyance morphed into disbelief as she got right up in his face, totally uncowed by him. "I will not let you take one more step into my home, warrior."

Nathan couldn't bite back his chuckle. "Female, unless you've got an army of bodyguards camped out in your salon, just how do you intend to prevent me?"

He started to take a firm step forward, and so did she. But instead of pushing him or screaming for help, Jordana Gates did something even more surprising.

She kissed him.

Without any warning at all, her lips were on his, her fingers gripping his shoulders, her breasts mashed against his chest.

For a very long moment, Nathan stood frozen, utterly stupefied. The warmth of her mouth, the softness of her body, the way her lips were melting against his . . . all of it combined into a tempest of sensation he was ill-equipped to deal with, even under the best circumstances. Hand-to-hand combat and stealth executions, no problem. But this was a situation well beyond his skill set and training.


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